Robbie Keane has almost seen it all. Playing in hostile environments for the likes of Leeds, Spurs, Liverpool and indeed Ireland means he should be prepared for anything football can throw at him. Ibrox is not the most welcoming of places at the best of times. Come 12.30 today, Keane will experience his first old firm derby, but is he prepared?
Former Celtic and Northern Ireland legend Neil Lennon believes so and knows exactly what lies in store for the Tallaght man. Having played in several heated Ibrox clashes himself, he feels he can relate to how Keane will approach this game and especially his first. Looking back at his own experience of such events, Lennon recalls how crucial it was to be at focused right from the start,
“Martin O’ Neill told me my first Old Firm game would be a blur and it was, the first 45 minutes just flew by” he said. “You have to try and enjoy it, it’s very intense, but you have to control your aggression. Some revel in it and others not. You have to be professional in your own mind. It’s gets a bit helter skelter, but once you get through the opening exchanges, you need to put your stamp on the game. Robbie is experienced enough to handle it”.
Another addition to the occasion for Keane is his Irish roots. Lennon recalls Keane has been here before, albeit with a different opposition and in preseason. That should not faze him however,
“It can be intimidating, but I think Robbie has played at Ibrox before. He got a rough reception. Atmospheres can sometimes get to people but for the really really top players, it is not an issue. They enjoy it, they revel in it. Robbie will be the same”.
Lennon, who is currently working behind the scenes at Parkhead, has seen his influence on first team matters grow of late, similar to when Gordan Stracahan first came in. Being one of the most respected and controversial players ever to wear the hoops, on days like this, his influence in the dressing room can be vital,
“The Manager has invited me in for some matches. I have an input before, half time and after, offering a helping hand if he needs me to speak to any of the players. A different voice could be good’’.
Taking this extra responsibility to the next level, Lennon already has nothing but positives views on how Keane has adapted to life at Parkhead, feeling that in his four games so far, the striker has shown good form and signs of what he can do,
“Robbie is clever, he has a good football brain. I have been watching him and he is always looking around before the ball comes to him. I think he’ll cause them a lot of problems on Sunday’’.
No doubt Lennon will be fired up as anybody in that dressing room come kick off. Chances are, he will ring a few calming words in the ear of Keane too. Not that Keane will need to be told much, he will know that beating Rangers at Ibrox is the ultimate for any Celtic player,
“I was lucky enough to play in a team that won there a few times, and there is no better feeling than going there and winning the game”, said the former captain at Parkhead.
The last two years have been rocky to say the least for Keane. He will walk onto the hallowed turf in a few hours, knowing he has a chance to write his name into the annals of one of the fiercest clashes of world football. He can erase those days of frustration by realising a lifelong dream. Nothing would make The Celtic fans happier than to see Keane net the winner. It was something that they always hoped Lennon would do,
“Now I hope Robbie can do it. He scored at Parkhead and that meant a lot to him”.
It is clear to see that the former captain is as excited about this game as when he was a player himself. That is how much this means to him. Expect that same controlled anger from Keane this afternoon. Tallaght and indeed Ireland, will be watching closer than ever.
Rangers V Celtic, Live on SS2, KO 12.30.
Email Ed [at] Backpagefootball.com